Biscotti, A Thread of Life
World Famous Biscotti, and a Thread of Life
It’s funny to think that a cookie can tell a story. I like to think of my love for baking biscotti as a bit of life’s tapestry. As a baker for many years, I’ve always been experimental, and yet traditional. I always loved baking Christmas cookies. When my daughter was in elementary school, I thought it would be nice to bake something different for teachers—something they would want to eat, something flavorful and not icky or gooey looking (or worse than that—store bought). I’d never baked biscotti before, so I tried them. For those years, teachers at Constable School received a platter of 10 or so assorted biscotti. I learned that they later looked forward to receiving the coveted platter, so much so, that several teachers received them a couple of years after Rachel had moved to middle school. After that, I didn’t stop making them, and the patrons at Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick enjoyed them, as we created a tradition here to bring beautiful platters of biscotti, cookies, and other baked goods to the shelter on Christmas Eve Day. I have always kept biscotti in my repertoire, and when my daughter, a graduating senior, returned to her elementary school several weeks before high school graduation as part of the school’s Senior Society program, she walked into the school, and, those teachers fondly asked after her Mom’s biscotti! I knew I was on to something, if that is what they remembered after 7 years!
So, I decided to focus on baking biscotti, and selling them locally. My first gig was an amazing feat: I baked 900 biscotti for a charity event in Princeton with 3 days notice! I couldn’t have done it without my Mom’s help in bagging and tying ribbons and tags. I began to then sell baskets of homemade biscotti in Tuscan Hills, a lovely Italian home goods store in Kingston, NJ. One thread led to another. At Tuscan Hills, I attended an event of food blogger Ciao Chow Linda, and I met a lovely woman there who told me she wanted to learn to make biscotti. So, I invited her over, we made Almond Biscotti and Chocolate Almond Biscotti. She told me that she didn’t have a “bucket list” but if she did, learning to make biscotti was on the list. I paused when she told me this, because I felt that my teaching her to baking biscotti had to be part of a larger mission. She returned the favor to me by telling me where I could take Italian lessons locally. I am now in my second month of learning this beautiful language that is tied so closely to Italian culture, at Dorothea’s House in Princeton—something I had never given real thought to actually doing. Thanks, Judy, for this wonderful thread. You see, now when I go to Il Campo Cucina in Tuscany in October, I will be able to speak and understand a little Italian!
Another thread came in January from reading an article in The Atlantic City Press, about a woman who bakes and sells biscotti at the Margate Farmers Market and also via mail order. I reached out to this kindred biscotti maker, and I look forward to meeting Julia someday, or, as she said, if I just want to “chat biscotti.” I thoroughly enjoyed making her Aunt Grace’s Biscotti, filled with roasted walnuts and anise seed. The flavor was warm and the texture divinely crunchy.
Which brings me to ingredients. Biscotti are really rather simple to make. Time can be the biggest ingredient, as the meaning of the word biscotti is “twice baked.” The biggest difference between biscottis fundamentally is whether they have butter (or oil) as an ingredient, or not. Otherwise, there are varying quantities of eggs, flour, and other staple baking ingredients. The commonality stops when you consider the dozens of nuts, fruits, flavorings and spices, and combinations thereof, that you can to add create a unique or traditional biscotti.
For the nuts, consider almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and pistachios.
For fruits: dried apricots, dried cherries, candied orange peel, lemon zest, dried cranberries, wild blueberries—use your imagination!
Some spices and flavorings are anise seed, almond, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chocolate, allspice, vanilla, orange and lemon extracts or oil—even rosemary.
The combinations are endless, and whether you like classic crisp almond biscotti to savor with a glass of vin santo, or something more unique like wild blueberry, white chocolate, and almond, there is a variety for every taste or occasion!
I am considering a venture, which is to make every biscotti recipe that I ever come across, and blog about them. (A little a la the movie “Julie & Julia”). I know I cannot make every recipe in a year, but I am sure I could come up with 365 variations to do so!
My latest favorite is photographed here—Candied Orange Peel and Pecan Biscotti. I have just taken a batch of Nutella biscotti (with pistachios and dried cherries) out of the oven, and as I contemplate whatever the next thread for me might be, and how it might relate to a passion for baking biscotti, I know that the road is never straight, but it always leads to somewhere.
Cottura biscotti è il mio piacere. Ciao!
Photos by Linda Taylor